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Growth in What? Prosperity for People through Ecosystem Health and Inclusive Wealth

23/02/2016 - 13:00 - 14:15
GEN Event

The roundtable discussion "Growth in What? Prosperity for People through Ecosystem Health and Inclusive Wealth" took place within the framework of the Geneva Environment Network Secretariat, on Tuesday 23 February, at the Palais des Nations

Agenda

Light refreshments

Welcome and introduction (13:00-13:05)
Steven STONE, Chief, UNEP Economics & Trade Branch (ETB) and the Green Economy Initiative
 
Panel discussion (13:05-13:45)
Barry GARDINER, MP, Shadow Minister for Energy & Climate Change, UK
Pushpam KUMAR, Chief,  UNEP Ecosystem Services Economics Unit
Paul VAN GARDINGEN, Director, Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA), UK
Michel TSCHIRREN, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment
Kookie HABTEGABER, Global Lead for Green Economy, WWF International

Q & A session (13:45-14:15)

Background

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goals 8, 15 and 17, and Rio+20 and its outcome document “The Future We Want”, emphasized bringing the benefits and socioeconomic impacts of ecosystems, as well as the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and its components, into relevant programmes and policies at all levels, in accordance with national legislation, circumstances and priorities.

The key defining feature of the SDGs is the emphasis on the indivisibility of the goals and embracing the fact that prosperity of people and planet are interlinked. Besides exposing the explicit linkages to decision makers, conventional metrics of growth and development must be questioned, alternatives explored, and credibility of indicators established jointly by science community and practitioners.

Discussion

The chair, Steven Stone, head of UNEP Economics and Trade Branch, welcomed everybody and introduced the main topic of the discussion and the speakers.

Michel Tschirren, from Swiss Federal Office for the Environment started by answering what Switzerland finds important to measure.

  • Green economy has been an important topic in Switzerland for years, and since the Rio+20 conference things have been speeding up.
  • Monitoring is important.
  • Switzerland has been working on the environmental footprint. As many products which are consumed in Switzerland are imported or only partly processed in Switzerland, a big part of the footprint of these products happens abroad. It is therefore a challenge, to make the Swiss footprint smaller.
  • Switzerland has also been looking at the study about planetary boundaries.

Steven Stone recalled the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) discussion.

Kookie Habtegaber, from WWF International explained that

  • What we measure is important because if we measure the wrong thing we end up implementing the wrong thing.
  • It is important what we do produce, how and for whom. The production side is still centred about finance and economic aspects, not really about sustainability.
  • Vulnerable communities are depending on environmental services. It is therefore important to take into account of the question what to measure.
  • In the SDGs some indicators for economic growth and GDP are very limited. The measurement of SDGs should not be limited to GDP.

Barry Gardiner, Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, UK, said that

  • The biggest element of growth in UK in 2013-14 were the floods. They constituted the major boost to GDP growth.
  • GDP is a measure of productivity, not of wealth. Greater wealth is the aim.
  • Statistics show that in the UK, a standing tree is worth 15 times more than the value of a tree cut down for timber. Example: the wood of the Central African Republic might be processed to timber in Cameroon and then be processed to a chair in China and finally be brought to the UK as the end product. All countries gain but CAR (which loses through the loss of natural capital).

Pushpam Kumar, Chief of UNEP Ecosystem Services Economics Unit recalled that

  • GDP is a good indicator (resource relocation, performance of economy), but it does not say anything about human well-being or welfare. How to rectify this historical mistake? Many specialists have been warning that GDP is not a good measure of welfare. Also UN and World Bank voices emphasized on this.
  • He mentioned the Inclusive Wealth Index report of 2014.
  • Only 6% of the countries have experienced growth. Income is not wealth, bad measurement. We are consuming beyond our means, and natural capital increased only in 13 out of 140 countries. (download presentation below).

Steven Stone said that the definition of inclusive wealth is close to comprehensive wealth (world bank measurement).

Paul Van Gardingen, Director, Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation, UK, said that

  • Equity and distribution is as important to a poor person in a developed country as to a poor person in a developing country.
  • Measuring what: we need to look beyond GDP and beyond any single measure. We need multiple measures combined and should not move from one single measure to another. When we look at how the GDP has changed and how this affected poverty, we need to look at the distribution of this GDP.
  • Access to resources, markets and decision-making is key, and poor people will most likely be excluded from all these factors.
  • What knowledge and evidence is needed to make better decisions in the future, which are not based on only one single measurement? If we follow this question, it will lead us to the right answer.

Barry Gardiner said Paul made a significant point.

  • What can enable better decision-making for legislators? Courage to lead on the right issues in a long-term perspective. Example: when he was minister for biodiversity, he wanted to put 6mio pounds into research for bee diseases. When the treasury refused to give him that much money, he replied that without this research, we will not know what measures to take and it will cost 194mio pounds every year instead. The treasury then understood that it is worth to invest these 6mio.
  • It is the same with private business: Nestlé, Unilever are getting sustainable supply chains because they know that it makes a difference for their own business as they want to be able to return revenue to their shareholders also in the future. Lesson: show people the benefit of doing the right thing.

Steven Stone then mentioned the consumers, what do they know about the product’s origin and footprint which they consume? Topic related to Michel Tschirren's presentation.

Questions & comments from the audience:

  • World Bank: Change the system and processes that deliver the basic information that is used for development and economy planning. 
  • Salman Hussain, TEEB Coordinator: Assumption that we all act in a self-interested way.
  • Susan, WWF: Agenda 2030 will be fragmented a lot, now that everyone is developing indicators. How to bring the philosophy of the SDGs (3 dimensions: economics, social and environment) together? How can all the measurements integrate all three dimensions?
  • Hamish Jenkins, UN-NGLS: WBCSD CEO Bakker said: “There is no business case for changing the planet…” → It seems difficult to change the rules of the game without changing the rules of world trade. Difficult to change without creating rules that are not even more unfair for developing countries than the current rules.
  • India: More an issue of governance than measuring. How does governance need to change?

Answers from the panellists:

Kookie Habtegaber:

  • We are linking environmental and economic issues for the African economic outlook on sustainable cities. If you go down to the city level, you cannot find any information that is useful for policy makers. Much of the GDP, however, is generated in cities. In order to measure the right thing, we need to be able to collect the right data. Data collection is a challenge.
  • Markets: “Markets are human artefacts.” Markets are not invisible hands that function without our intervention and decision-making. So how do we influence the change?
  • Platform economies, what are economies going to look like in 20 years: we need to look at what is happening in the future.
  • Answer to Susan's (WWF) question: they work in Sweden on SDG indicators → only 7-8% were on environment and climate.

Michel Tschirren:

  • SDGs: All countries now have to find ways to implement the SDG commitments through measures and strategies. Different stakeholders need to be included into the discussion. Switzerland has inter-ministerial working groups working on different themes of the SDGs. Example: The new growth policy 2016-19 is now being elaborated in collaboration of different ministries (regarding the environmental aspects, for instance the study on ecological footprints is being considered and integrated into the policy).
  • Process: The international dimension is important. For Switzerland it is a challenge having an almost 3 planet footprint (¾ of it happens abroad). The country is therefore very engaged to find solutions on the international level. The Swiss Federal Council pushes for green economy, but there are also demands from the citizens: A popular vote will come up this year, pushing for a 1 planet footprint for Switzerland. Question of pace and how much Switzerland can do itself and how much can be done on the international level.

Barry Gardiner:

  • Answer to the question about governance: Markets are created by regulation which comes from the government. Good governance regulates markets in a good way, so good regulation and governance is key.
  • Good regulation should be above the public goods, it should protect the public goods. If you deplete the stock of public goods, then you should pay. If we follow the polluter-pays principle, the question of how much the polluter should pay comes up. This gets us straight back to metric: the value of the public good you depleted is that much, so this is the amount you owe to public society. However, we do not have a handle of our public goods. As the way in which we deal with public goods is important, good governance is absolutely fundamental.
  • At the moment, we do not have the metric to measure the value of public goods. Governments must focus on keeping the stock of public goods that are available now. As we have seen in the power point presentation earlier, almost no state is trying to keep its level of natural capital.

Steven Stone:

  • With Barry saying that governments must shape the market and govern it in the right way, we are back at Kookie’s argument that markets are manmade.

Paul Van Gardingen:

  • The future we want outcome document: When decision-makers start to find the type of future they want, they need to evaluate if it is feasible, and what this future would mean for air quality, water quality etc. If the envisioned future was feasible, what would it mean for different groups of society?
  • 2030 Agenda: What are the unanswered questions that need to be addressed by decision-makers? Where is data still missing? The global community is now thinking about transforming and what is needed for that.

Pushpam Kumar: Closing statement

  • What is most important now:
  1. Institutionalize the SDGs, make our goals legally binding. It is important that we institutionalize the whole process of involving natural capital.
  2. Brave and clear action is needed by governments. Agencies need to be receptive of scientific development. Learning from the scientists is key.
  3. Finally, we need to speak simple language if we want to reach people on the ground. Only then we can make an impact.
  • Human health was not much discussed here, but is also improved by better ecosystems. There is a direct link that needs to be considered as well and a lot of research is needed. Macro-projections must happen in order to have the right impact on the micro-level on the ground.

In his closing remarks, Steven Stone recalled that human health is the topic of UNEA2. SDGs present a huge opportunity: What we measure matters, it is time to measure!

More information, links and documents

More info coming soon.

Links: